Hunt of the Unicorn by Xorex (Quest Entry)

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Hunt of the Unicorn by Xorex (Quest Entry)

Post by Bluestar »

Hunt of the Unicorn

by Xorex

“A little learning is a dangerous thing/Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.”

An Essay on Criticism, Alexander Pope

No one has ever seen a unicorn colt. Some claim that mother unicorns are protective of their young and hide them in the deepest, most secluded glens of the least explored forests yet remaining in the world. Others hold that unicorns only grow their horns in adolescence and that young unicorns pass amongst the common folk unnoticed, their latent beauty well concealed. But the real reason that there are no tales of unicorn colts is that none have ever walked this earth. The unicorn is a magical beast without peer. At the dawn of time, after smoothing out the seas, sculpting the mountains, and spreading the stars across the night sky, once man and beast and fish were sleeping peacefully in their proper homes, the gods poured the remainder of their love and their spirit into the making of the unicorns. This act was their final gift to the world before they vanished into echoes in the valleys and whispers on the winds.

At least, so told the legends sung by all the most eloquent minstrels whom Elwyn had heard. The traveling singers also provided tales of more recent encounters with unicorns. In almost all accounts, to touch a unicorn meant certain death but glorious and painless death. The nearness to creation was too much. The experience overwhelmed the senses. And yet the heroes of the legends still sought the beasts, lovers, poets, warriors, all apparently unaware of man’s past history with such encounters.

But all of that was just legend, embellishment and fabrication to widen the eyes of children. Better to trust the tales of the shepherds and field hands, told over a drink at the local tavern. These stories were much less fulfilling. Just about everyone who toiled near Elmdeep forest claimed to have seen a unicorn once or twice, although these sightings were fleeting and distant, ephemeral horned specks shimmering in the horizon.
Only the old Jabberer dared tell of a closer encounter. The Jabberer was widely regarded as the eldest member of the town, and his great white beard and feeble step never led anyone to question the distinction. If he had ever had a name other than Jabberer, Elwyn had never heard it. The Jabberer’s tale took place long ago, further back than the memory of anyone else could reach, were they even alive then. It was the childhood tale of a young Jabberer and his companion Pliffin. One late autumn day found the two friends walking homeward at sunset with the sky painted orange and their shadows stretched out before them. As they ascended the last hill between themselves and their homes on the edge of Elmdeep forest, a form suddenly leaped across the hilltop, brilliant and dazzling in the sun’s last rays. While the Jabberer stood frozen in place, Pliffin sprinted up the hill and met the animal face to face. For an immeasurable interval of time, nothing moved. Man and beast’s eyes remained locked until at last Pliffin reached forth his hand and found himself alone upon the hilltop.
Although the two friends completed their trip home in complete silence, Pliffin would later describe passionately the beauty of the unicorn and its coat of white so pure that all colors could be seen dancing in it. Pliffin’s overtures, usually made by a nighttime fireside, gave way eventually to songs which grew more moving with each night until all who listened found themselves dancing or weeping by the song’s end. Pliffin himself grew paler and more detached. The end of his songs would leave his blank, gaunt cheeks the only dry pair aglow in the firelight. One morning the town awoke and found him gone. A shepherd’s tale of a figure disappearing over the hill outside town was the last that was ever heard of Pliffin.
All of these myths and stories were enough for the struggling poet Elwyn, who seven days ago had left the hill outside of town behind him and entered into Elmdeep. For seven days the youth has hacked and slashed his way into the pathless wood. His face and hands are now bloodied from stray thorns and twigs growing thickly in the untamed brush. His food supply is long spent. And still there has been no sign of any magical beast.

Struggling through thick and knotted plant life, Elwyn comes suddenly upon a large clearing in the midst of the woods. A heavy grey sky overhead gives no indication of the time of day. His stomach growling, he falls limply into a sitting position at the edge of the tree line. Hunger has progressed beyond pain to a weakness in his limbs and a fuzziness in his head. It does not help that he has no idea where he is or where he is going.
Everything goes black, and he does not even bother to consider whether he closed his eyes or they closed themselves. As waves of sparkling rainbow pain wash over his eyelids, he thinks back to that which drove him here. The pain fades away; the rustle of leaves go silent; the wind ceases to glide smoothly over his face. There is nothing but charcoal midnight.
A white speck appears, dazzling bright and growing swiftly. It comes closer, eating away at more and more of the darkness until there is nothing but light, so strong he can feel it weighing upon his chest. And still, despite the ubiquity of this light, the form at its center, at its source remains discernible. It passes swiftly over unseen peaks and valleys, its head held high, its horn a swirl of brightest rainbow.
He reaches out his hand and the beast is there panting softly. He runs his hand down the shaggy white mane and the beast is still there, unaffected by the contact, showing neither fear nor pleasure. Gently stroking the animal’s side, he grows bolder. A hand upon each side of the neck he looks the beast directly in the eyes. There lie pools of shadow deeper and thicker than even the blackness that had previously surrounded him. Goosebumps form on the backs of his hands and tremors run up and down his spine. He can feel its warm, moist breath upon his cheek. Gently pressing its neck down with his hands, he lowers its head below his, and then, slowly lowering his own head as well, he bestows a long, soft kiss upon the beast’s horn.
His hands fly up into the air as he staggers backward. A fireworks show greater than any he could ever imagine begins now before his eyes. Balls of color explode upon his eyeballs and stream downward. The fragrance of a thousand roses all in bloom fills his nostrils until he is no longer sure that he is breathing. As he loses his balance, a scream, as if every air molecule was attempting to tell him something of vital importance all at once, rages within his ears until he lands on something solid and all grows quiet.
He opens his eyes. He is sitting in a clearing in the midst of thick woods. He has no food and no idea where the nearest outpost of civilization lies. Overhead the cloudy sky does not betray the hour.
A dull rhythm rises slowly and disengages itself from the web of softly sighing trees. Elwyn struggles to his feet and sways lightly as his bearings return. Across the clearing appears a familiar white form. A ragged smile opens on his mouth and hangs across his face. His hands at his sides constantly open and close in nervous motion.
As the beast moves closer, he can already feel its soft, smooth coat beneath his hand. As its form grows large enough for him to make out its eyes, he can already hear its relaxed, gentle panting. As the graceful lines of its sinews become well defined, he can feel the beast’s horn within his hands, its body trotting at slow canter beneath his legs as he rides atop it. He can smell its snowy mane as he buries his face into the thick white hair and whispers “fly” into its ear. He can see himself riding proudly through hill and dale, mounted upon white lightning.
Now as the beast is upon him, he reaches out his hands and feels it as the long spiraling horn drives forward, piercing his chest and burying itself deep within his heart. It was the last thing he ever felt.
~Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.~

-Ralph Waldo Emerson-
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